Many CEO’s are founders, or came to a company when at an early stage of maturity. Even CEO’s who lead well established companies are often in the position for many years. As companies grow and mature, it’s crucial for the CEO to keep pace with that growth in their own habits, responsibilities, and confidence to delegate.
The Challenge of Responsibility
In the case of a founder starting a business or CEO of an upstart, they often do everything. From accounting to marketing to sales and visioning, a single person or very small group make everything happen.
As the small company gets a bit larger, positions start filling as responsibilities get clarified. But many CEOs struggle to let go of the reins – in part because they’ve developed a preference for how things gets done, in part because by nature they want to control outcomes, and in part because they haven’t developed the skill of delegation.
But a bucket can only hold so much water. A CEO involved in too many part of an organization doesn’t have the space needed to contribute to where they’re most essential – vision, guidance, inspiration and direction. As a business grows it needs more of the CEO strategically.
The Art of Delegation
When the CEO hires people around them, especially key leaders, it’s important to:
- Build on their strengths
- Give them responsibility and authority
- Be unafraid of “failure”
Building on strengths: Hire people with the right skills for the right roles, so they can immediately contribute but also grow and flourish. You don’t just want people doing a role the way it’s been done – you want them to see new possibilities and potential, then be capable of getting those things done.
Responsibility and authority: Getting those things done means having the means to do so. It’s common for a manager or executive to feel a need to check in or get permission to make decisions. Every organization is different, but the CEO isn’t really freeing themselves up if they have to stop and redirect their focus to give the thumbs up for somebody else to do their job. Have confidence in people’s ability to see a thing through, even if it’s not how it’s always been done or how you, the CEO or leader, would’ve done it.
Be unafraid of “failure”: Look for opportunities for growth and teaching and focus less on where somebody succeeded or failed. Failure might be a matter of perspective – if a goal wasn’t reached, is it possible it just hasn’t been reached yet? If an investment didn’t pay off, are you smarter for the experience so the next opportunity is more likely to be a win?
Delegating to the CFO
Financials can be a tough responsibility for the CEO to loosen their grip on, especially when there’s some pressure like profits or revenue being down. Sometimes CEOs will respond to these pressures by reverting to something they’re familiar with or they’ll make decisions without insight on parts of the company they don’t necessarily see or clearly understand.
The right CFO in an organization spans disciplines and touches all elements, business units, or departments. The CFO should be an asset to deliver insight and guidance to the CEO with a dispassionate perspective. This can be a key complement to the CEO or founder, who can’t help but be emotionally invested in the direction of the company. Pragmatic advice that’s still nuanced and concerned can help the the CEO make more specific decisions about a company’s direction, and the CFO should be a key voice in that conversation.
Building The Team To Succeed
Among the key skills the CEO requires is the ability to know themselves, evaluate talent, and create a high performance sum of many parts. A CEO that’s overly involved in the wrong things stifles a company’s ability to grow. Delegating to people they have confidence in creates more potential for success. Responsibilities aren’t just shared but expanded on with diverse skill sets and capabilities, with the CEO delivering vision and strategic guidance.